To celebrate International Men’s Day we asked three inspiring men from MJN to reflect on what it means to be positive male role models. They recount their stories of hardship, growth and self-kindness to offer different types of mental practices that can relieve male struggles.
EPIC Programme Entrepreneur
If I was to go back and give my younger self advice, it would be to be yourself and say how you feel. I had an abusive and religious father who didn’t care about how I felt and would hit me or verbally abuse me if I didn’t do things his way or oppose him. This made it harder to open up, especially because when I did speak to the police, or even my school, they would talk to him and he would hurt me even more for telling on him. My family also encouraged this theme of not opposing the elderly, even if they were wrong, especially when it came to religion. This caused me a lot of mental health problems internally and it was harder to make friends and be myself. I had anxiety and self-confidence issues that I slowly overcame when I made friends with people that didn’t judge me. These were friends that listened to me and I could trust, speak to, and be myself around. I also looked for help that was accessible to me, including counselling.
In summary, I would say to be yourself, be open, and remove toxic people from your life. Also, stop hiding how you feel because it doesn’t make you more manly (like the way it can be portrayed in the media). You need to listen to your body! It sounds obvious, but some things in life don’t make you feel great for a reason. Don’t rush things, take your time, and love yourself.
Group Chief Executive Officer at KA Europe
I was reflecting on this year’s theme for International Men’s Day, ‘Making a Difference for Men and Boys,’ and I was taken back to thinking about role models in my life who encouraged me in my earlier years.
I always had a leaning towards things that involved helping and caring for people. At a young age I didn’t really have this well-articulated, but I knew that it was not necessarily an approach shared by other boys that I would hang out with at home or school.
I will never forget when I was roughly 12 years old in a Personal and Social education lesson and the teacher asked the class what we’d like to be when we were older. The contrast between myself and other boys was stark. Whilst the majority wanted to be engineers, pilots, racing drivers, electricians, football players or soldiers, I piped up and said that I wanted to be a nurse or care assistant. This was met with howls of laughter and claims that they were jobs for girls! Fortunately, the teacher salvaged the situation and facilitated a class discussion to promote gender equality.
I think this experience provided me with the platform to really think about what I wanted to do in the future. It wasn’t long before we had to select our GCSE subjects and, with my future plans in mind, I selected my choices. In addition to the mandatory subjects (which I hated!) I chose child care, home economics, drama and typing. It didn’t take long for me to be told that child care was a ‘girls only’ subject. But luckily, home economics was open to boys. Undeterred, I chose history instead and volunteered at a local charity which involved visiting elderly people at home. By the age of 15, and a conversation with the careers counsellor, I decided that I wanted to be a social worker.
Fast forward another year and by the age of 16 I finished school with two great GCSE results in Drama, Home Economics. I also got my Pitmans Elementary and RSA Grade 1 in typing, but I had failed miserably at all of the mandatory subjects and history! I didn’t have the grades to do A Levels and my career guidance counsellor suggested that I consider doing a BTEC National Diploma in Social Care. I applied and was called for an interview because I didn’t have the three GCSE C Grades required for entry. At the interview, I met the course leader and Principal of the college and told them all about my career choice. I spoke to them about how I wanted to change the world and prove that men can have a career in caring! I think they liked me because they offered me a place on the condition that I retook my GCSE English, which I did and passed with flying colours! I was the only man on the course! It’s amazing what can happen when you study something that you love.
After my BTEC, I went on to university to qualify as a social worker, and 26 years later, I still get to do what I love. In some small way I have changed the world for someone, somewhere! The hurdles along the way were just hurdles that needed jumping. I would say to my younger self ‘don’t give up and don’t be deterred by the naysayers.’ Actually, I say that to my older self too!
Chief Executive Officer at FosterTalk and MJF
As I’ve grown older, my mindset, thoughts and emotions have entirely changed. My view of the world has shifted but, more importantly, I feel more at ease, focused and comfortable being me. I think this will be similar for most people.
I’m a firm believer that we are all a different version of ourselves every year of our lives. As we grow older, our priorities shift to focus on the most important things around us. I think this is a mixture of natural maturity, life experiences (both positive and negative), and the human desire to change. We shouldn’t rush this process for the younger males around us. It’s the journey itself that defines who we become.
However, I didn’t always feel like this and I can clearly remember parts of my life where I felt uncomfortable, unfulfilled, and like a failure. I held myself up to self-imposed standards that, upon reflection, were unmanageable and unattainable.
The most important relationship you will ever have in your life is the one you have with yourself. Not only does it form the foundation for all the other relationships in your life, but if you can improve the relationship you have inside of you, it will protect you from a multitude of other inevitable, uncontrollable and potentially harmful events that happen.
Investing in and healing your relationship with yourself is one of the most valuable actions you will ever take. Accepting who you are, what you stand for, and the direction you’re heading is not quick or easy. But sometimes going slowly is the fastest way to get anywhere. Simply recognising and understanding that you are as important as everyone else is a tremendous first step.
In my early 20s I wanted to change my life, not just the hand I was dealt, but the whole deck of cards! Do you know where I started? Inside my own mind. If I spoke to others the way I talked to myself, no one would have wanted to be around me. When I realised this, I made a conscious decision to begin growing a kinder inner voice and learned to quiet my inner critic. Slowly, I began to accept and love myself a little more, be proud of myself a lot more, and ultimately change my life one day at a time.
My advice to any other man feeling the same way is this: accept that you are you. You are never going to be anyone else, and if you are not kind to yourself, then no one else is ever going to be. Life is really short. Don’t sweat the small stuff. If something isn’t going to affect you when you are lying on your death bed, don’t let it take up much of your time today. Turn your expectations into appreciations. Life is so much more pleasant this way for you and those around you. Lastly, give yourself a break! Very few people have it together at 20, and truthfully, most don’t even have it together at 50 or 60.
Be sure to raise awareness of the men around. Be the friend and colleague you needed at that age, pay it forward, show love and respect, send the elevator back down, and bring others up. Don’t be afraid to help, guide and encourage. We must look after each other. Ultimately, you don’t get what you want; you get what you are.
We’re thrilled to be supporting International Men’s Day at The Martin James Network and you can learn more about how you can get involved here.